TORIE WHITE '16 & RICK MANAYAN '17
TORIE: What kind of art are you doing right now?
RICK: I’m currently focusing on photography, working with new clients, building a portfolio, and making the transition from digital to analog. I also do dance. I was able to do that a lot this year—theses and dance concerts. I also do slam poetry.It’s a great venue for communicating ideas that can translate across different people. I think that’s probably one of the most rewarding things—being able to find art that communicates to a greater audience.
T: Are there any themes you’ve been playing with or drawn to lately?
R: I’ve really been interested in the idea of place and home. I went home back to Hawaii for winter break and I basically took a camera with me everywhere and just explored the whole idea of how can place be defined by the people who inhabit it. I was able to rediscover or reacquaint myself with my hometown.
I think a lot of my photography is taking a turn towards something that’s more introspective, like documentary style film photography, in the sense that I think sometimes photography can be a little impersonal. I’m trying to do similar things— show people what’s going on in my world. I think that art now is trying to not only reflect what’s going on in the world but also confront it. So things that are what they are, but why are they the way they are and what can I do to possibly change those things?
T: Is there anything in particular that you’re challenging?
R: Yeah. Growing up, I didn’t necessarily know how to define it, because a lot of institutions pave way for you to think in a dichotomous way, thinking that things are one or the other. So, growing up I didn’t know how to ascribe qualities to how I personify my gender. And I think now I identify as gender-fluid. I don’t identify with traits that are solely male or female. So, right now I’m trying to challenge what it’s like to view the world through the eyes of fluidity. I think something that my friends said about my photography is that it has this sort of dream aesthetic and I really enjoy that, because the cameras I use are old Japanese cameras and they themselves create that aesthetic that I really like. When there are qualities that are blurred in the photos themselves, it creates a ‘what is this? Is this realistic or surrealistic or hyper-realistic?’ My main priority is trying to change people’s perceptions on what it is to be a more fluid being. But I don’t necessarily intend for this to happen. It’s not like I’m intentionally trying to be like what is fluidity? Looking at things as exploration is a good way of putting it.
T: Were you surprised by anything when you went home and chose to look at it through this new angle?
R: Yeah! When I went home I was really grateful to be home. I think sometimes photography can come off being very commercial, because it’s usually just photographs of mountains and rainbows and hiking trails and the ocean. And I think being a photographer from Hawaii, you’re so cut off from anything that’s happening, like larger land masses, so you have to find ways of entertaining yourself and find people who enjoy doing the same things that you do. I was surprised to find such an outlet of people who were just down to collaborate. I was really surprised that my friends were so willing to also explore this world with me and willing to have me take pictures of them whenever I wanted to. I was really surprised I was able to find so many things to take pictures of.
T: Did you have support getting into the creative arts from your family or how did that come about?
R: Sort of. My mom is inherently good at all types of art. She’s a master seamstress/painter. She always encouraged me to utilize art as a means of taking up time. It seemed like a really productive thing to do. My dad also was actually a photographer, as in like he took photography classes in high school, still has the same analog camera that he used to but now is a lot more interested in everything that’s happening now, so I guess there has been a lot of support for me to do what I do. But most of the time my parents just think I’m really weird and I’m just an old man trapped in the body of this 19 year old boy. They’re like ‘why do you only want to work with old cameras? And why are you still using film?’ Because I’m really interested in things that last, that last over time. Even if people don’t necessarily last over time, there are feelings that will last over time, stories that last over time, and I’m really interested in creating narratives that are indicative of time periods, times in my life. So, I’ve been supported a lot by my parents but that means mostly them being like ‘do whatever you want. I can’t tell you what to take pictures of and what not to take pictures of.’ I’ve sort of needed to figure that out for myself, like who am I as a photographer? What makes me different from any other type of photographer?
And the thing is, I’m not that much different than any other type of photographer in that I just capture what’s happening in my life, and I try to take pictures of memories that are worth encapsulating. But, I think I am different in the way that I theorize about my pictures. I utilize a lot of different subjects that inform my work. Like, I like thinking about my photography in the English sense, and what can I write about my photography? How can I describe my photography? What kind of stories can my photography translate into? So, something that translates across my work is that I think I try just making art that is accessible, because often times, art has been used as a means of communicating ideas within higher circles, and I am not about that. I’m not about trying to keep information within higher circles of society. I’m about trying to integrate so that art can be accessible for anyone. Back home I used to be really interested in this place called 808 Urban. They work with students in schools on graffiti murals so you can make art accessible to at risk youth—being able to get as many people involved in it as possible rather than making it this exclusive thing, is a really important idea for me.
T: Yeah, that’s definitely something I’ve encountered here is that you get in the world of academia and art which is so cool, but you get deeper and deeper further away from what people would necessarily get.
R: Yeah, I was talking to my academic advisor—no names—and I got really upset because he was like you should continue in this realm of academia and you could experience more prestige, but I’m like what’s the point of doing that? Aren’t you trying to get me to translate my knowledge to other people, to larger audiences? Why would you want me to keep my knowledge in a higher realm that most of America, most of the world will not have access to.
T: Do you feel a difference between creating art at school versus elsewhere?
R: Yeah, definitely. Mostly because at school, you’re just with the same people so those people will always be the subject of all your pictures, which is not a bad thing by any means, but also you’re locked in this one place and you have to find all the places within this place that are worth photographing. Whereas, with going back to Hawaii, I could drive anywhere, walk anywhere and have a camera on me, just take a picture. And I can do that here, but it feels a lot more restricted. I’ve just been really grateful for opportunities to get out of school or off campus. I’ve been able to go to Boston or New York or Colorado and take pictures there.
T: Tell me about your American Apparel shoot, and how that came to be.
R: What really happened is that I became friends with the manager. I was just there so often looking at the clothes and not buying anything because I was poor and in high school, and he was like ‘hey do you want a job?’ Because they give you clothes, and part of the uniform was wearing American Apparel. So I was like ahh I wish I could work but I have no time to do that, but maybe in the summer. So I worked this past summer and was able to get all these clothing pieces, and essentially this past winter he was like ‘hey, I am trying to build a stylist book. You could also take pictures and this could count towards your portfolio. Also these pictures will be used by our social marketing team in various parts of the world. Also, these pictures might be sent to Doug Charney who’s the CEO of American Apparel.’ And I was like ‘Oh! Doug’s gonna see my pictures? This is gross. I don’t want him objectifying my friends. But whatever,’ and thankfully the pictures came out very tasteful and there’s nothing too inherently revealing. I don’t care about the body that is revealed, I just care if the subject themself is put in an uncomfortable position, which has definitely happened in regards to American Apparel photo shoots.
So I got to collaborate with two friends who modeled for me, and also the manager who modeled for me and styled the shoot. I just took the pictures, edited them, gave them to the manager and then they were used on the American Apparel Hawaii Instagram, and the American Apparel Korea Instagram. So, it’s really cool that I had access to that just because I worked there. Now, whenever I want I can be like ‘hey, American Apparel Hawaii, I’m back in Hawaii. Let’s do a shoot, here are your pictures.’ Then they’ll use those pictures on maybe any social media, Facebook Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and those pictures can be used across any country, which is really cool. Seeing my picture on American Apparel Korea was very strange, but it was a very cool experience. And so I’m working towards becoming the actual Hawaii photographer, which is hard because I’m always here. I’m only there in short amounts of time, because I have to travel back and forth for school. But, hopefully good things happen this summer.
T: That’s so cool you got to shoot with your friends too.
R: Yeah, they’re just like ‘who can we use as models?’ So, when you work at American Apparel you sign a contract to appear possibly in pictures or to model for the company, because essentially you are a living model. They say ‘we don’t have models because you guys are the models.’ So it was very cool to be like, ‘hey interact with her like this’ rather than putting two strangers together. Interact!
T: Is there anything that you do to get into the mode of art making? Is it challenging to get into that space?
R: Not necessarily. I follow the cliché, I always carry some form of camera on me, whether it be my actual camera or my phone. And, I think because I haven’t made art like the thing I’m majoring in, this thing that requires a lot of repetitive work, then it still becomes fun for me. I think my photography has always just been me chillin with my friends, me busting out a camera and being like ‘okay stay like that forever!’ My work will just come out of really weird situations. Like I just took this picture of my friend Ari who had shaving cream on him, and I was like ‘oh, there’s a bathtub around there! Could you sit in the bathtub and look really somber?’ So sometimes, I just make people do really weird things. And the pictures will look really cool, but it will take a lot of cooperation on the part of my friends. And I’m really glad that I have friends who haven’t left me at this point.
T: Is there anything else you want to talk about?
R: No not really. I’ve never considered myself this artist. I just do it because it’s fun and because it seems like a productive thing to be doing. And I find myself just pouring so much time into it, so I might as well have set up this freelance business.
T: Have you ever felt naturally high on making art?
R: Yeah! Sometimes, just being in a place itself that hasn’t been explored is a really wonderful thing. Like I remember back in Hawaii, my friend and I were searching for this famed sunflower field, which only happens twice a year, but by the time we got there, they had cut all the sunflowers down! So, I was like hey you know what we’re just gonna drive. We’re gonna drive in this abandoned farm and we’re gonna find something to take pictures of, so I was able to take this picture, because my friend just kept driving down the back roads of this weird cattle ranch farm thing. Just being able to discover and experience new places and people that I enjoy is a very gratifying thing in and of itself. I think that everyday is a celebration or a means to be high on life. You’re alive! Some people aren’t! Take that into account next time you’re sad or think your life is so horrible and miserable. Even those moments are worth photographing I think. Sometimes when people are really sad I’ll bust out the camera and take a picture, and it’ll brighten up their day. They’ll be like why did you do that? And I’m like why not?